The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has used the backdrop of World Food Safety Day to remind people never to wash raw chicken.

FSAI and  Safe Food, a group that promotes awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition on the island of Ireland, said washing raw chicken can spread food poisoning bacteria up to an arm’s length from the sink, which could cause people to get sick.

Campylobacter is a bacteria found in raw chicken. It is the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning in Ireland. In 2018, there were more than 3,000 notified cases in the Republic of Ireland, an increase of more than 8 percent from 2017.

The second World Food Safety Day on June 7 is led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

A recent study found advice from experts is not fully adopted by the public while recommendations from authorities on monitoring doneness of chicken and consumer practices do not ensure the reduction of pathogens to safe levels.

Consumer habits
Research by Bord Bia found changing domestic food habits of people since Covid-19 with one in three adults reporting they are cooking more from scratch.

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said it was key to keep hygiene at the top of the mind when preparing food at home.

“Many more of us are now cooking at home, and some of us might be doing it for the first time. So now is a good time to keep up good personal hygiene behaviors like hand washing, for lots of crucial safety reasons – and of course, food safety is an important one.”

Ray Dolan, CEO of safe food, said people preparing chicken should never wash it.

“While you might think you’re cleaning it, you’re actually spreading harmful bacteria up to 80 centimeters, or about an arm’s length, from your sink. It’s thorough cooking of chicken that safely destroys any food poisoning bacteria that are on it,” he said.

“Wash your hands before and after handling raw chicken and wash any utensils or work surfaces that come into contact with it to prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen. Those most at risk of getting sick from food poisoning are the very young, the elderly, those with an existing medical condition, and pregnant women.”

Role of industry
Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said it was important not to lose sight of the work that goes into maintaining the high standard of food safety, traceability, and authenticity of Irish produce.

“Given the theme of this year’s campaign, it is only right to recognize in particular the work of the Poultry Stakeholder Group, under the chairmanship of Professor Patrick Wall, which continues to develop and refine a comprehensive farm to fork approach to food safety in that sector, in close collaboration with my department.”

Dr. Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, said food businesses need to be on high alert to stop the spread of bacteria when preparing chicken.

“The control of bacteria, such as Campylobacter, needs to be managed throughout the entire food chain from farm to fork. Caterers and retailers using raw chicken in their dishes should assume that it contains harmful bacteria. There is no step during processing chicken which can guarantee bacteria removal, except cooking at correct temperatures,” she said.

“We are reminding caterers and retailers of their legal obligation to follow the best hygienic practices at all times to prevent cross-contamination between raw poultry and ready-to-eat food. Always store raw chicken correctly and ultimately, the last line of defense is to ensure chicken is cooked thoroughly.”

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